Laguna Beach lawyer and former WWII bombardier Charles Brady leaves with his son today for a three-day whirlwind trip to the nation’s Capitol.
By coincidence, the visit falls during the Memorial Day weekend, the national day of remembrance on Monday, May 30, for those who have died in service to the nation.
As a result, Brady and his companions, 56 other war veterans from 20 states, are likely to encounter crowds swollen by those observing the holiday while visiting the national World War II Memorial.
“They are treated like rock stars,” promised Jim McLaughlin, chairman of Springfield, Ohio’s, Honor Flight Network, which since 2005 has ferried 65,000 war veterans on similar free trips to Washington, D.C., to visit “their” monument as well as others around the Washington Mall.
The poignancy of time and place inevitably yields spontaneous acts of courtesy and respect among onlookers, said McLaughlin, describing a young German couple earlier this month that expressed their gratitude to vets for their service 65 years ago in Europe during his most recent trip earlier in May.
“Nobody’s ever said ‘thank you,’ ” explained McLaughlin, pointing out that most troops at war’s end were not met by a New York-style ticker-tape parade, but came home alone welcomed only by family. On Honor Flight trips, though, “they get thank yous in spades,” he said.
The trips extract another unexpected emotion, especially when vets view the WWII monument’s Freedom Wall. The field of 4,048 sculpted gold stars, each representing 100 lives, commemorates the more than 400,000 who died in service to their country.
“They forgive themselves for being lucky,” said McLaughlin, who has seen vets let loose of their survivor’s guilt and talk about experiences left buried for 65 years. Accompanying guardians, who are typically children and pay their own way, learn things they never knew, he said.
“It’s the most amazing day of their life,” McLaughlin promised.
Brady, now 87, applied for an Honor Flight in 2008 and will be accompanied by his son, Michael, of Mission Viejo. Thousands of other WWII vets remain on waiting lists as the network’s volunteers in 108 locations around the country individually raise funds to underwrite visits. “We have no sugar-daddy,” said McLaughlin, other than Southwest Airlines, which has donated many seats. “As I’m calling folks, I get a hold of widows; I’m often a month too late,” he said.
Brady is one of the fortunate vets who already feels appreciated for his service.
Last year, he was treated to a flight on a vintage B-24 Liberator, the plane where he served two years as a bombardier in the south Pacific with the 13th Air Force. The flew on the Liberator from Riverside on its brief flight to John Wayne Airport, part of an aviation history tour with vintage aircraft by the Collings Foundation.
Brady’s life holds another special footnote in WWII history. Though he returned to his hometown in Montana after the war and went to law school, not long after he also worked as a civilian for the government at the U.S. Air Force’s European headquarters in Wiesbaden, Germany.
On a weekend pleasure trip to Holland, he met Rebecca Marcus in Amsterdam’s Rembrandt Square. The Jewish teenager had survived Nazi occupation hiding with relatives in the family home for three years. Her German-born mother kept soldiers at bay by denying their were Jews in the house while knowing and sympathetic neighbors helped with the needs of the hidden household.
The rest of the Marcus clan perished in Sobibor, a concentration camp in Nazi-occupied Poland.
“If not for these guys, I would have been in a concentration camp,” said the Holocaust survivor, now 77, who would later marry the former soldier that agreed to sponsor her immigration. She contacted Brady in 1955 when she emigrated. “I had no money in my pocket and a lot of nerve,” she said.